Should I use screws or nails with cedar?

As a wood for building, cedar -- particularly western red cedar or eastern red cedar -- has few equals. The heartwood is knot-free and the grain of either variety is very straight and resists warping. Whether erecting a fence, planking a house, making furniture, or building a boat, cedar is an excellent choice. When choosing fasteners, what you are building may determine whether using nails or screws is the best option.


Western red cedar has long been used to build fences because it is extremely resistant to rot and insect damage. When attaching the rails and planks, either nails or screws could be used. Galvanised nails or screws would be a good choice as they are rust-resistant. The advantage of screws is they can be easily removed and reused if any part of the fence is damaged and requires replacement. If you select screws, drill pilot holes before driving them.

Shingles and Clapboards

Because of its rot resistance and ability to accept both paints and stains, cedar is used for making both shingles and clapboards. Given the sheer number of fasteners shingling or clapboarding a structure will likely require, attaching them with nails is probably your best option. Use double-hot-dipped galvanised nails, which are extremely rust-resistant. As you drive the nails, drive them just flush with the wood's surface. Overdriving may crack the wood and ruin the piece you are using.


Cedar is often used to build outdoor furniture. If you are building a bench, you might employ both screws and nails. Galvanised finishing nails could be used to fasten the seat and back slats and screws might be appropriate for attaching the armrests and legs. Set the nails slightly below the slat surfaces to avoid snagging someone or something. When attaching the arms and legs, consider drilling screw pockets into the wood and drive the screws in at their base. Then conceal the screw pockets with cedar plugs.

Wooden Boat-Building

Cedar is often used for planking and structural timbers by wooden boat builders. Your best option when fastening planking to the ribs is to use flathead silicon bronze screws. The pilot holes should be countersunk, allowing the heads to be driven flush with the hull. For interior finishing where creating a fancy look might be your goal, use either oval-head or flathead silicon bronze screws and fancy finishing washers. Washers of this type are also sometimes referred to as "pretty" washers.

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About the Author

Rich Finzer earned his boating license in 1960 and started his writing career in 1969. His writing has appeared in "Northern Breezes," "Southwinds," "Living Aboard," "Good Old Boat," "Latitudes & Attitudes," "Small Craft Advisor," "Life in the Finger Lakes," "BackHome" and "Dollar Stretcher" magazines. His maple syrup has won awards in competition. Rich has a Bachelor of Science in communications from Ithaca College.